in Found in Translation

What does “home” mean in a nomadic life? Inspired by Love at the Speed of Email.

I loved this book! I couldn’t put it down and read it all in one evening. I look forward to reading it many more times, since Lisa’s book has given me a nuanced and comforting way to look at my own concept of home (not a simple concept in a nomadic life).

I’ve been a longtime fan of Lisa’s blog. Lisa, an Australian psychologist, was living in Los Angeles and traveling all over the world to train humanitarian aid workers in stress management techniques, when she received an email from Mike, an American working to develop sanitation systems in Papua New Guinea.

Author Lisa McKay

Through stories and big questions and the wonderful invention that is email, one thing led to another, and now they live in Luang Prabang, Laos, with their adorable baby Dominic.

Love at the Speed of Email seamlessly blends letters and memories with gorgeous, urgent, present-tense storytelling.

Here’s the description from the back of the book:

Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.

This book is an ideal choice for a long plane ride, a book club, or a lazy afternoon at “home” (whatever that means). Order it!

The core theme of the book is a search to define home, which is not easy when your life has spanned Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Croatia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and more (in Lisa’s case) or California, China, Chile, and beyond (in mine).

While reading the book on my iPad, I made a list of things that I associate with home. These are artifacts from many people and places, which all blend together in my mind.

  • Home is tea poured for me, with no sugar but plenty of sweetness.
  • Home is red lentil soup with lemon. (This recipe inspired my version. I interrupted the writing of this list to make a spicy batch. It’s winter here in Chile.)
  • Home is broiled salmon topped with orange spice paste and a salad of green apples, spiced pecans, bleu cheese, and mixed greens.
  • Home is the hairstylist who has #8 on his nametag and remembers every detail I’ve ever told him.
  • Home is a broadsheet newspaper in my native language.
  • Home is Halloween costumes.
  • Home is a Thanksgiving feast.
  • Home is the Nutcracker soundtrack.
  • Home is made-from-scratch Mexican food.
  • Home is knowing where the bus will turn.

This list is incomplete; this isn’t the first time I’ve written about home. Almost two years ago, while living in Beijing, I made this photo-filled list of places I’ve called home. 

Here’s the view from my current home.

After two days of rain, the sky opened and invited everyone outside to marvel at the snow-capped peaks in the distance.

What does “home” mean to you? Is this an easy question to answer?

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  1. I love this Leeslie. As someone who’s not so sure where “home” physically is anymore. Home is a phone call away that reminds you that you’re loved. Home is the church where no matter what language, the order is the same. Home is some green or roibos hot tea even in the middle of summer. Home is fresh fruit and hot pepper soup and tasty desserts. Home is sunshine and warmth and smiling faces.

  2. Thank you Kovie! I love your list of signs of home, all full of love that can be felt from any physical place. I love almost all the of things you mention, especially the roibos tea (my favorite bar in Beijing has a roibos-infused vodka that I would always order with soda and a bit of simple syrup.)

    Your comment about church makes me think you’d especially love Lisa McKay’s book, since she writes about how church in Zimbabwe gave a sense of order that wasn’t always present in other places and situations.

    Thanks for reading and have a fabulous day!

  3. What a great idea. For those of us who travel vicariously thru blogs such as yours, here is my humble list: my dog, my tomato garden, the ocean, the life and vitality of Los Angeles.

  4. Steve, I really like your list! So concrete and specific.


  5. Leslie, I found your blog via a trail from a friend’s blog to Lisa McKay’s which led to yours. That’s the story of my life, in a sense. Not jumping from one blog to another, but seeing how one experience opens up other new experiences. I’m South African, but have spent the past 17 years abroad in other countries: Taiwan, the US, Kenya, Indonesia, and since 2 days ago, Thailand.

    I once wrote, “Home is where I hang my reticulated giraffe” (a painting I purchased in Kenya.) But my painting won’t be here for another few months, so I have to redefine that.

    Home is knowing the way, or discovering new ones. It’s favorite snacks in the kitchen. Home is anyplace where I have good friends, or where new good friendships are waiting to be forged. Home is where I can put my feet on the couch. It is the smell of coffee from my favorite mug. Home is when you start recognizing, and better yet, using, words in the local language. Home’s not home overnight. It takes time. For some of us who travel a lot, that time just tends to be a bit shorter than for some others. :)

  6. Nice blog Leslie.

    For me, it is also well timed. For me, it is being able to strike up a bit of banter with a stranger in a bar. Walking home in the rain. Milky tea. Friends I’ve known for decades. Stuffing at Christmas time.

  7. Adele, thanks so much for your comment. Your journey from blog to blog and country to country sounds a bit like mine. I checked out your blog and you have some fascinating stories!

    Your examples are so vivid and I agree with you: the more you travel, the more easily you can find yourself at home.


  8. Thanks James! Nice list. Some of the things you mention are easier to replicate in a new home than others, and I guess that’s part of the challenge. It’s possible to banter with strangers and make milky tea when you’re new in a place, but building a decades-long friendship is more of a long-term endeavor.

    Let’s meet up soon!

  9. I think home is where I feel like I can comfortably be myself. That’s oddly happened in places where I’m brand new and least expect it at times, it is in place in the communities where years have rooted me and the knowledge of each other, and in some places it just never develops.

  10. LOVE this blog, and the comments. Leslie, you and Kacie Mann (who’s written a similar post) have inspired me to think about holding a blog hop or something similar on this topic)!!

  11. Leslie good post. Your nomadic ways resonate well. I try to come here periodically and see how you are. I am very happy to see you are well. Keep up the good work. Beijing misses you.

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